Monday, August 23, 2010

Old St. George hotel proposal needs $65K

Old St. George Church  (BC)
A partnership of state and local companies wants to redevelop Old St. George Church in Clifton Heights into a boutique hotel, but needs an additional $45,000 in pre-development funding to make it happen.

HineSite Strategic Services, LLC principal Douglas Hine presented the proposal for the Saint George House last week before community leaders at the Niehoff Urban Studio on Short Vine in Corryville, saying that his group needs the funding to provide and assessment of the building's architectural and functional suitability, schematic designs, a development budget and sources, construction cost estimates, a market study, operating projections, and a strategic development plan.

So far, $20,000 has been raised, of which $10,000 has come from the Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CHCURC).

"We thought it was important, before going out and asking for money, to show our support for the project," said Matt Bourgeois, director of CHCURC.

Previous developers have kicked around the idea of a boutique hotel, which is why Hine said that the pre-development activities are so important.

"It's not sustainable unless you have a sustainable use for it," he said. "We have to make sure that when we complete a museum-quality restoration, the operations can sustain the hotel."


Under the proposal, a partnership including CHCURC, HineSite, CR Architecture + Design, and Cleveland-based Paran Management Company and Richfield Hospitality Management Company would:
  • Restore the church's sanctuary as the hotel's "public room", complete with a ballroom and auditorium/lecture hall, plus space for a bar or restaurant.
  • Build a three-story, 60-room addition on the east side of the site.
  • Convert the friary into nine unique suites and meeting rooms. The library would be converted into a breakfast area for both hotel guests and the community at large.
  • Landscape the courtyard areas for outdoor functions.
  • Construct a 29-space, single-story parking structure beneath the property, accessible from Classen Street. A parking agreement with the University of Cincinnati for the Corry Street Garage would be likely to handle overflow.
Very early estimates are that the work could cost between $14 million and $17 million to complete. Multiple avenues of financing would be necessary, Hines said, including state and federal historic tax credits and federal New Markets Tax Credits.

"This is right in the sweet spot of both of those programs," Hine said.

A neighborhood fixture

Built in 1872 and designed in the Romanesque Revival style by renowned local architect Samuel Hannaford, the historic St. George Church is not only a well-known local landmark, but is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well.

Vacated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1993 following a merger with nearby St. Monica, the church eventually was purchased by CHCURC to prevent the construction of a Walgreens drug store.

But on the evening of February 1, 2008, a three-alarm fire tore through the structure, causing nearly $2 million in damage.

Bourgeois said that, the night of the fire, he was told by several firefighters that the building was as good as gone.

But the next day, he was pleased to discover that the steeples had acted as chimney, directing the smoke and fire away from the main structure. Very little water damage was found.

In the meantime, CHCURC is working with the City on a contract to replace the roof and keep the building stabilized.

"The longer these types of buildings sit idle...time brings damage," Hine said.

Real passion

Following the fire, Hine was transitioning out of a job at Miller-Valentine Group.

Although he opted to not be involved with the Old St. George proposals at the time, he did find himself working on the redevelopment of Park Place at Lytle, a condominium project that converted the former R.L. Polk factory building into livable space.

"I have a real passion for urban renewal," Hine said.

Hine said that the building had outlived its useful life as a factory, then as offices.

"It's got another 100 years of useful life Downtown, and that's crucial," Hine said.

A partner with a track record

Hine gives high praise to partner Joseph Shafran, chairman and CEO of Paran Management Company, who has a track record of more than 20 years of working on such transformative projects.

"Shafran has a real passion for the institutions of Ohio," he said.

Shafran's best-known project may be the Glidden House at University Circle in Cleveland, adjacent to Case Western Reserve University.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1910 French Gothic Eclectic-style house was purchased by the university in 1953 for its Department of Psychology and its Law School Annex.

Following four years of permitting and other red tape, the mansion opened as a 60-room boutique hotel in 1988. Its carriage house became a popular neighborhood restaurant.

Goodbye, Dresden

A revamped Old St. George would provide a more impressive gateway and bookend to the eastern side of Clifton Heights' neighborhood business district, an area that University of Cincinnati adjunct professor of Community Development Terry Grundy described as World War II "Dresdenesque" and consisting of "several City blocks that disappeared somehow".

"We've got a lot of new construction at various stages," Bourgeois said. "But this would be an example of a building that's seen better days, where we can come in and give new life to it and create a new neighborhood anchor."

And it could help spur the planned redevelopment of the multi-phased Uptown Commons project along Calhoun and McMillan streets. Towne Properties already plans to build a $25 million, 100,000-square-foot office building at Calhoun and Vine streets, a project that will likely begin construction when it's 60 percent pre-leased, he said.

"That project could happen in a relatively short period of time," Bourgeois said.

"I'm really just the facilitator to make this happen," Hine said. "We don't know who will be the end user. But we don't want the community to lose that asset. The important thing is to save it."

Previous reading on BC:
Panel to discuss future of Old St. George (5/27/08)
CHCURC: Old St. George will be saved (2/5/08)